By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
Click here to watch highlights of the victory
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Defense did the job throughout the first half, and balanced scoring combined with unselfish ball-handling took Tennessee Tech to the finish line as the Golden Eagles dispatched SIU Edwardsville, 74-67, Wednesday night in a first round game at the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Nashville's Municipal Auditorium.
Senior point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas led the charge with 16 points and a career-high 11 assists, while three Golden Eagle veterans – Javon McKay, Dennis Ogbe and Dwan Caldwell – each contributed 10 points to the victory. In all, nine different players put digits in the scoring column to help Tech advance in the tourney.
The Golden Eagles had to withstand a determined Cougar charge down the stretch in which Tech's double-figure lead shriveled to four points in the final minutes.
"Both of our games have been like that with them (SIUE)," said Golden Eagle head coach Steve Payne. "We played well at times except for a few minutes where we turned the ball over too much in the second half with questionable decisions."
The No. 5 seeded Golden Eagles (17-15) move ahead to play No. 4 seed Morehead State Thursday at 6 p.m. Tech and Morehead split the season series, with the Golden Eagles claiming a 91-84 victory in Morehead just five night ago.
SIUE (11-20), making its first appearance in the OVC Tournament, saw its season come to a close.
The Golden Eagles got help from up-and-down the bench, in addition to the four in double figures. Shirmane Thomas added eight points and four assists, Matt Marseille had a perfect shooting night (2-for-2 from the field and the line) and chipped in with six points and four rebounds. Ladon Carter had six points on 3-for-3 shooting, and Jordan Johnson netted five points and dished out three assists. Caldwell led Tech with nine points, narrowly missing a double-double before drawing his fifth foul.
Tech finished the night with 20 assists on its 25 field goals, directly leading to a 58.1 percent effort from the floor (25-for-43).
Samarrippas matched his career-high with 11 assists, a mark he originally set while playing his freshman season at SMU. His court sense is what gave the Golden Eagles such balance in the scoring department, according to McKay.
"Jeremiah is just finding everybody really well right now," McKay said. "I think it spreads our offense out a lot more and he has a lot to do with that."
The defense limited SIUE to 25 percent shooting in the first half as Tech built a 38-22 lead by the intermission.
SIUE attacked the basket in the second half, earning an early 10-1 difference in fouls called against the Golden Eagles. The Cougars shot a crisp 53.6 percent from the field in the second half, but saw their perfect (6-for-6) free throw performance in the first half dip to 12-for-21 in the second half.
Kris Davis led SIUE with 19 points, while Rozell Nunn added 14 points and six rebounds and Donivine Stewart finished with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
After leading by 16 at halftime, the Golden Eagles kept their margin in double digits for all but 20 seconds of the first 13-plus minutes of the second half.
Still up by 10 at 64-54 with 4:14 to play, Tech saw the lead dwindle to four points when SIUE went on a brief 6-0 run to make it 64-60 with 1:55 remaining. The run included turnovers by the Golden Eagles on three consecutive possessions, all while in the paint on the attack.
Samarrippas, who was charged with two of the miscues, hit a crucial 3-pointer with 1:31 to play to push the lead back to seven and give the Golden Eagles enough breathing room to finish the contest at the free throw line.
After Tech made just three of its first six charity tosses down the stretch, Ogbe snatched the biggest rebound of the night with 26 seconds left following a miss by Thomas. It was Tech's first offensive rebound of the second half, and it allowed the senior from Munich to knock down two free throws and pry open the lead to nine.
"I thought that (on defense) we got back on our heels a little bit and let them attack the paint," Payne said. "Our whole game plan was to net et them get in the paint on dribble penetration and create open shots, and we did a really poor job of that in the second half. They did a really god job of attacking us."
GOLDEN NUGGETS: Tech improves to 5-2 all-time against the Cougars…Tech is now 8-1 this season when shooting 50 percent or better…Andy Smith was recognized by the league during halftime as one of two recipients of the Dr. Thurston Banks Award (both shown in photo at left)